Wasserman JA, Fitzgerald JE, Sunny MA, Cole M, Suminski RR, Dougherty JJ. Nonmedical Use of Stimulants Among Medical Students. J Am Osteopath Assoc 2014;114(8):643–653. doi: https://doi.org/10.7556/jaoa.2014.129.
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Context: Proliferation of the use of psychopharmacologic drugs for the treatment of individuals with attention and behavior disorders has promoted discussion of the illicit use of such drugs to enhance academic performance. Previous research has focused on the use of such drugs by undergraduate students; however, inquiry into the nonmedical use of prescription stimulants by medical students is warranted because of the unique qualities of the medical school environment (including academic pressure, stress, and competition with peers) and the demographic characteristics common to many medical students.
Objective: To examine the nonmedical use of prescription stimulants among osteopathic medical students, focusing on such key associated variables as academic stress, social network connections, and use of other substances.
Methods: In 2012, first- and second-year students at a large osteopathic medical school were surveyed on the nonmedical use of prescription stimulants, stress, social networks, perceptions of drug use, and related topics. Data were compared with national data and assessed using analysis of variance and χ2 statistical tests.
Results: A total of 380 students completed the survey. Of those, 56 (15.2%) reported using prescription stimulants nonmedically to help them study in medical school. This percentage is significantly higher than the national estimated rate of diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in similar populations (t=3.72, P<.001). Both positive perceptions of the nonmedical use of stimulants (F=14.89, P<.001) and the use of other substances (χ2=18.00, P<.001) were positively associated with the nonmedical use of stimulants. Social network connections did not positively predict use by medical students, and certain types of social connectivity had a negative association with use.
Conclusion: In contrast with research on undergraduate populations, addressing academic stress and feelings of competitiveness may not be viable strategies for mitigating nonmedical use of stimulants among medical students.
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